silhouette

silhouette

[sil-oo-et]
silhouette, outline image, especially a profile drawing solidly filled in or a cutout pasted against a lighter background. It was named for Étienne de Silhouette (1709-67), who was the finance minister to Louis XV; it is said that he was so noted for his stinginess that cheap articles, including portraits, were designated à la Silhouette. Drawings in silhouette became very popular in Europe during the last decades of the 18th cent. and replaced miniature paintings at French and German courts. In England and America profile portraitists proliferated in the 19th cent. and numerous magazine and book illustrators, e.g., Arthur Rackham, employed silhouettes, or, as they were called in England, shades. Their popularity was fostered by the interest in Lavater's science of physiognomy and by the strong interest in classical art, especially in Greek black-figure vase painting. Silhouette drawings decreased in popularity after the invention of the daguerreotype.

See A. V. Carrick, A History of American Silhouettes (1968); N. Laliberté and A. Mogelon, Silhouettes, Shadows and Cutouts (1968); S. McKechnie, British Silhouette Artists and Their Work: 1760-1860 (1978).

Silhouette portrait by Charles Willson Peale; in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Outline image or design in a single solid, flat colour, giving the appearance of a shadow cast by a solid figure. The term is usually applied to profile portraits in black against white (or vice versa), either painted or cut from paper, especially popular circa 1750–1850 as the least expensive method of portraiture. The name derives from Étienne de Silhouette, Louis XV's finance minister, notorious for his frugality and his hobby of making cut-paper shadow portraits. In 17th-century Europe, shadow portraits and scenes were produced by drawing the outline cast by candlelight or lamplight; when paper became widely available, they were often cut out freehand directly from life. Photography rendered silhouettes nearly obsolete, and they became a type of folk art practiced by itinerant artists and caricaturists.

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A silhouette is a view of some object or scene consisting of the outline and a featureless interior, with the silhouette usually being black. The word is an eponym named after Etienne de Silhouette, a finance minister who in 1759 imposed such harsh economic demands upon the French people that his name became synonymous with anything done or made cheaply .

Etymology

The family name Silhouette is a Frenchified form of a Basque surname, Zilhueta; Arnaud de Silhouette, Etienne's father, was from Biarritz in the French Basque Country; this surname, whose Standard Basque or Batua form is Zuloeta, contains the suffix -eta "abundance of" and zilho, Batua zulo, "hole" (possibly here meaning "cave").

In art

A silhouette is a form of artwork. It is most commonly a human portrait in profile, in black. They do not show any facial expression. Silhouettes are most often made by a skilled silhouette artist by looking at a subject's profile, whether in person or from a photograph, and simply cutting out their likeness freehand.

Two hundred years ago, long before the camera was invented, someone wishing to have an inexpensive portrait created of their loved ones would have visited a silhouette artist. Within minutes and using only a pair of scissors and a skillful eye, he would have produced a little image with a remarkable resemblance to his subject.

In America, silhouettes were highly popular from about 1790 to 1840. The invention of the camera signaled the end of the silhouette as a widespread form of portraiture. However, their popularity is being reborn in a new generation of people who appreciate the silhouette as a nostalgic and unique way of capturing a loved one's image.

In popular culture

Silhouettes have been used in many of the opening credit sequences of the James Bond films, where girls dancing in silhouette appear to be naked.

Silhouettes have also been used by recording artists in music videos. One example is the video for "Buttons" by The Pussycat Dolls, in which Nicole Scherzinger is seen showing her body as a silhouette.

Early iPod commercials portrayed silhouetted dancers wearing an iPod and earbuds.

The TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000 used the main characters in silhouette when they were shown watching the movie in the "movie theater."

The famous opening sequence of the television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents features a silhouetted profile of Alfred Hitchcock stepping into a caricatured outline of himself.

Military usage

Silhouettes of ships, planes, tanks, and other vehicles used by the military are used by soldiers and sailors for recognition purposes. See Jane's Fighting Ships, aircraft recognition.

In graphic design

To silhouette is to separate (mask) a portion of an image so that it does not show. For instance, a background.

In journalism

For interviews, some individuals choose to be videotaped in silhouette to mask their facial features and protect their anonymity, typically accompanied by a dubbed voice. This is done when the individual may be endangered if it is known they were interviewed.

See also

External links

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